As I write we’ve just heard the news that we’re facing six more months of restrictions, and they’re a little tighter than they’ve been for the last few weeks. I have some pretty big feelings about that (see my Facebook post below) but, as is my nature, I want to focus on being positive. And right now that means looking at how we’re all managing with life right now, especially in terms of habit vs addiction, the poor choices some of us are (understandably) making, and how we can make improvements.
Have you developed a habit which, in other circumstances you’d consider ‘bad’ – but which you currently find yourself rationalising as just the way you’re coping with COVID? I know I have.
Before you start beating yourself up, it’s worth noting that this is completely natural. But, while it may be normal, bad habits are still bad habits, and they’ll be easier to break if they’re nipped in the bud early than if they’re allowed to endure. Plus, of course, bad habits can develop into harmful ones if left unchecked, which is one more stress none of us need in our lives.
COVID Coping Mechanisms
Psychologically speaking, we’ve all endured a fairly significant trauma over the last half a year or so. Yep, it’s been that long. And it’s set to continue for a good while longer.
The level of uncertainty, the degree of (unwanted) change, is something we’ve all had to find ways to accommodate and, if not embrace, at least make peace with. And we did, we have. Except now the goal posts appear to have changed…
It was previously implied, or at least we inferred, that the COVID response was a temporary measure. We would do The Hard Thing (lockdown), and if we did it well enough, then we could give ourselves a pat on the back and normal life could resume.
That last day at the school gates in March, I’m sure few of us were thinking ‘well this is pretty much the last time we’ll ever live in such a care-free world’. And yet here we are.
Here’s the problem: for as long as restrictive measures were temporary with an end goal in sight, we were able to rally.
Many of us created schedules, chose to use our time wisely, and embrace the extra time with our young families. Or perhaps we finally got around to painting the spare bedroom, or learning a new skill, or writing that book, etc.
COVID Bad Habits
For some, the bad habits began way back then alongside the good intentions and positivity:
‘I deserve a little pick-me-up, and it’s not like I’ll be seeing anyone or going anywhere… An extra chocolate bar/slice of cake/glass of wine won’t hurt. ’
You totally do, you probably won’t – and it actually might.
One study shows that since the outbreak began, there’s been a 13% increase in non-medical drug use, a 15% increase in vaping, a 19% increase in smoking, and a 23% increase in alcohol consumption at home. I can well believe it.
Others have slipped into bad spending habits. With little else to do, it’s become one easy way to provide ourselves with a hit of happy hormones; especially for those of us who’ve seen a positive financial impact from the enforced quarantine, which has prevented so many of our usual trips and treats. The danger in this scenario is what’s known as ‘lifestyle creep’ – we quickly become accustomed to having newer/bigger/better, and so the cycle perpetuates.
Even those who have resisted bad habits during lockdown itself may begin to notice them slide in now – it’s only as we started to suspect that normalcy was not, in fact, all that close after all, that we started to slip into unhealthy choices for an instant hit of dopamine.
Drawing on reserves to manage a difficult but crucially finite period is one thing; managing that scenario with no clear end in sight is quite different and requires a whole other skill set. Naturally, that’s very overwhelming and can feel simply too much. And that’s when we give in to those bad habits with their immediate reward.
We need to find a sustainable strategy for being okay with these unprecedented, uncertain, emotionally draining times.
Habit vs Addiction
It can be difficult to determine the difference between a bad habit and an addiction, since the symptoms of both overlap. So how can you tell them apart? Do you even need to?
Labelling the behaviour is not always helpful or necessary, but if any of the following fit, then it would technically be categorised as an addiction:
- You’ve tried unsuccessfully to stop the behaviour,
- You’ve lied about or hidden it,
- You’ve put yourself in risky situations because of it,
- You experience stress or anxiety if you resist.
The bottom line is that, if the behaviour is directly or indirectly having a negative impact on your life, you should take steps to change it.
How to Break a Habit That’s Not Serving You
If you know any of this applies to you and want to be proactive in making better choices for a healthier lifestyle, there are a few steps you can take to help:
1. Recognise the Habit
While it’s easy to brush off a mildly bad habit as no big deal, recognising the problem – or the potential for one – is the first step to making more positive choices.
2. Decide You Want to Change
Of course the next step is making the conscious decision to do better. And that has to come from you because until you are resolute, you will not succeed: the draw of a bad habit is its easy reward:
Your resolve has to be stronger than that temptation.
3. Distract Yourself
Whatever the bad habit you’re craving, wait five minutes. If you’re desperate for a cigarette, or a drink, a piece of cake, or a new dress – pause. Use those five minutes to distract yourself. The urge may pass, especially if you’re busy with something else.
4. Replace With a Healthier Habit
You could choose to draw, or exercise, or journal. Anything that creates calm in your mind and busies your hands is perfect.
My Positivity Project Wellbeing Journal
5. Be Kind to Yourself
This is a very tough time for us all. Be gentle with yourself. We’re navigating completely new territory and are essentially in survival mode – your expectations should be very different now to what they were pre-pandemic.
The best thing we can do is put the brakes on longterm plans for now, and instead aim to stay present, and simply get through today.
With the ever-changing COVID guidance, our thoughts and feelings are all over the place; we don’t know whether we’re coming or going, and that in itself is creating a sense of chaos and disorder. It’s no wonder anxiety is affecting so many, to such an extreme.
To help combat this, as ever, I highly recommend journalling as a form of self-care. Not only will it help to order your thoughts, it will also enable you to identify what things in your life are working well for you, and where you may be able to make beneficial changes.
For professional help with addiction visit HelpGuide.